The novel by Céline La Frenière is being adapted into a TV series

Autor Céline La Frenière Peter Dinklage is Sam McNeill in the leading role.

Photo by Shogo Hino

"Life, Love, and Murder in a Corner of London. A project of Dickensian just the way Dickens might do it now."

Nate Briggs, Kindle Book Review

The British TV thriller series opens up with a disturbing scene in a dark damp cellar in the heart of Chicago, USA. Covert CIA Investigator Sam McNeill is in a dire situation tied up to a bolt near a fierce burning fire. His hosts are obviously intent on causing him serious harm. There is some angry exchange about McNeill having testified as a prime prosecution witness against their boss and discussion as to what to do with “the bastard”. While the villains are distracted, Sam escapes and is then chased across town by armed mobsters. McNeill is fast and clever, and he manages to lose his pursuers.

He finds himself facing his Superior at the Central Intelligence Agency office (CIA). Director of Operations Katherine Mansfield is a tough-looking, middle-aged woman with a wry sense of humour. McNeill did them a good turn by testifying against the mobsters but now they have to decide what to do with him. Sam flatly refused to work behind a desk to carry out intelligence analysis in an underground office. Having spent a month imprisoned in a cellar, he needs to be posted outdoors.“The problem with relocating you anywhere in the States is that those guys will find you wherever you go.” Sam volunteers that his mother is British. Would that help? A mischievous gleam appears in Mansfield’s eyes. She smiles ironically as she says: “Great Britain. Hum?… That’s an idea.”

Her Voice Over can be heard as the camera fades to Sam in baggy dungarees rolling a street dustcart in a gritty neighbourhood in a corner of London. “And you said you wanted to be posted outdoors? Where we are going to send you no one will find you, that’s for sure…”

With years of experience in the field of Intelligence and an IQ off the chart, it is a struggle at first for McNeill to adjust to this new environment. However, for the next decade Sam, now employed as the local road sweeper is the writer’s male alter ego who observes people and events with a keen but detached, eye, throughout this entire series. With numerous well-defined characters interweaving over 102 chapters, Sam is the constant. He is always there, unnoticed but vigilant.

Glaston Town is home to a cast of motley characters. Immigrants and old-timers, criminals and constables, clergymen and crack addicts, students and shopkeepers, pimps and politicians all live more or less together. Many of the residents are low-income families living in social housing. But the citizens find themselves united when a nearby area once populated by criminals is redeveloped, consequently flooding Glaston Town with displaced drug dealers, prostitutes, and other lawbreakers. Members of the community band together to clean up their streets, forming a collective when the local park, Lavender Gardens, may be destroyed by a developer to make way for a truck route.

Most compelling is Jack Corbyn, a brilliant teenager who would rather count bricks and screws than chase girls. As he matures he becomes an unlikely Glaston Town hero, but his relationship with childhood mate Bee O’Neall turns troubled when a wealthy woman who hires her as a companion plucks her out of poverty. Seeking romantic advice, Jack turns to an unlikely mentor, the local prostitute Leila Pain. La Pain may be a public nuisance, but she proves to have plenty of wisdom to impart to her young friend. Just as things seem to be going better for Jack, Leila’s old sins are catching up with her.

A brutal murder shocks the neighbourhood. Newly minted Detective Constable Sharon Tyllor is called to assist in the investigation, but as an outsider, she finds that nobody is talking and that everyone, it seems, had a motive to commit this particular crime.

Of course, Sam is not entirely without challenges from the past in his current position. There are times when old American villains will come close to catching up with him. The Home Office would then go on high alert. Sam, however, is an intelligence officer well-trained in the arts of espionage, defence, and disappearance while hiding in plain view. He sometimes turns the table on his enemies, spies on their underground activities and reports on them. As one says, no one notices road sweepers. Big mistake! This particular road sweeper hears everything, sees everything, and understands even the most subtle information. When the brutal murder takes place in Glaston Town, everyone is totally flummoxed as to who would have done such a deed. Not so, Sam who has his ears on the ground and advises quietly behind the scene the newly ambitious Detective Constable Sharon Tyllor in her search for the truth.


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